USS Petrof Bay
|Laid down:||15 October 1943|
|Launched:||5 January 1944|
|Commissioned:||18 February 1944|
|Decommissioned:||31 July 1955|
|Struck:||27 June 1958|
|Fate:||Sold for scrapping 30 July 1959|
|Class and type:||Casablanca-class escort carrier|
|Length:||512 ft 3 in (156.13 m) overall|
|Draft:||22 ft 6 in (6.86 m)|
|Speed:||19.3 knots (35.7 km/h)|
|Range:||10,240 nmi (18,960 km) at 15 kn (28 km/h)|
|Awards:||5 Battle stars|
She was laid down under a Maritime Commission contract by the Kaiser Shipbuilding Company, Vancouver, Washington, 15 October 1943; launched 5 January 1944; sponsored by Mrs. J. G. Atkins, wife of the Farragut, Idaho, naval training station's executive officer; acquired 18 February 1944 and commissioned the same day at Astoria, Oregon, Captain Joseph L. "Paddy" Kane in command.
Petrof Bay departed Naval Air Station, San Diego, California 29 March for the southwest Pacific; unloaded passengers, aircraft and cargo upon arrival Espiritu Santo 14 April 1944, and six days later sailed for Seeadler Harbor, Manus Island, arriving there 25 April. She transferred eight aircraft to other ships in the harbor.
On the morning of 29 April, she made rendezvous with Task Force 58 (TF 58) to furnish replacement aircraft, prior to its first strike against the then powerful Japanese stronghold of Truk. The ship then proceeded to Majuro, arriving 3 May, and rejoined TF 58 after its successful strike on Truk. There she unloaded all her aircraft and most aviation spares and materiel, and took on aircraft in need of major overhaul, and salvage equipment.
With Barnes and three destroyers, the ship turned toward the US on 7 May, arriving in San Francisco Bay 20 May. At San Diego, she embarked Composite Squadron 76 (VC-76), commanded by Lieutenant Commander James W. McCauley, for shakedown air operations. On 30 July the ship shoved off for Pearl Harbor, arriving 6 August.
The extra aircraft were unloaded and all resemblance to a ferry transport disappeared. On 12 August she was underway in Task Group 32.4. en route Guadalcanal. She anchored in Tulagi Harbor, Solomon Islands, the afternoon of 24 August. On 4 September, Petrof Bay, as a part of "Taffy 3" in company with Saginaw Bay and Kalinin Bay, sortied with the Peleliu and Anguar Movement Group No. 2.
She launched her first strike against the enemy on 15 September. The Marines successfully landed on Peleliu Island and established a beachhead aided by her aircraft. From D-Day until 29 September, with the exception of one day when bombs and ammunition were replenished at Kossol Passage, her aircraft bombed and strafed the Japanese, and searched for enemy shipping, aircraft, and submarines. She encountered no air opposition during the operation. By 30 September, when the airstrip on Peleliu was operational Petrof Bay retired to Manus Island.
Battle of Leyte Gulf
The two escort carriers rendezvoused with "Taffy 2" for "A-Day" operations, and made forty air sorties during the landing on this first day. That night after being detached from the task unit, the carrier joined "Taffy 1", which had been suffering air attacks. From 21 October through 24 October Petrof Bay launched Air Support Groups.
On 24 October, contact reports accumulated describing major units of the Japanese fleet moving out to fight what was to be the Battle for Leyte Gulf. The escort carriers were in three units: "Taffy 3" (Task Unit 77.4.3), east of the southern portion of Samar; "Taffy 2" (Task Unit 77.4.2), just south of that position; and "Taffy 1" (Task Unit 77.4.1) with Petrof Bay, south of "Taffy 2" and east of Surigao Island.
The Japanese Central Force, which had earlier been sighted and attacked by aircraft in the Sibuyan Sea, and which was thought to be withdrawing, had slipped through San Bernardino Strait under cover of darkness, and had steamed south toward the eastern entrance to Leyte Gulf. At 06:47, Taffy 3 reported that they were being attacked by heavy units of the Japanese fleet and land-based aircraft. Two special strikes from Petrof Bay joined in the air attack against these enemy ships. Four General Motors FM-2 Wildcats and six Grumman TBM Avengers were launched at 07:24 to join a 05:52 launch of four fighters redirected to attack the Japanese surface ships.
At 07:29, radar reported six Japanese Mitsubishi A6M Zeros closing on the formation. The ship went to General Quarters and so remained for the next 108 hours. Anti-aircraft guns shot down two planes, but one of the survivors crashed into the flight deck of Santee, another crashed into Suwanee, and another narrowly missed Sangamon. A Yokosuka D4Y "Judy" then strafed Petrof Bay and narrowly missed with a bomb that failed to explode. Santee was hit by a torpedo a few minutes later.
Meanwhile, Petrof Bay's planes hit the enemy while Taffy 3 was actually under attack. The Wildcats made strafing attacks while the Avengers launched torpedoes. During the two strikes, her pilots claimed one probable hit on the battleship Yamato, two probable hits on the battleship Nagato, two on the battleship Kongō and one on an unidentified cruiser, plus strafing runs on Yamato, the cruisers, and destroyers. Wildcats without enough fuel to return to Petrof Bay landed at Tacloban airfield where they received some friendly fire. Surviving Avengers landed on Fanshaw Bay of Taffy 3 and Ommaney Bay of Taffy 2 with less than ten gallons of fuel remaining. Only one torpedo plane and two fighters returned to Petrof Bay.
Petrof Bay launched a final strike at 15:30 to search for and attack the enemy then in retreat. After rendezvousing with other aircraft from the escort carriers, the flight proceeded to San Bernardino Strait where it found and attacked a cruiser of the Mogami class, scoring two torpedo hits and one probable hit. These planes also landed at Tacloban Airfield when their fuel was inadequate to return to Petrof Bay.
At 22:32, one of the destroyers in the screen had a sound contact. A 90-degree emergency turn was made and almost immediately thereafter two torpedoes straddled Petrof Bay, one 20 yards (18 m) on the port and the other passing under the overhang on the starboard side. The destroyer escort Coolbaugh attacked with depth charges and was believed successful in destroying the submarine.
On 26 October, the only remaining Japanese force within range of the escort carrier's aircraft was one light cruiser and four destroyers sighted in the Visayan Sea. Petrof Bay launched its only two remaining Avengers to participate in a strike against the five ships. One plane scored a hit with a 500-pound (230 kg) semi-armor-piercing bomb and a near miss on the cruiser and strafed a destroyer which caught on fire and blew up.
Suwanee was crashed into by another Zero at noon; and four Japanese aircraft started suicide runs on Petrof Bay from astern. The first aircraft exploded in mid-air from a hit from the 5-inch (127 mm) gun aided by gunfire from other ships. The second turned to starboard, smoking, and withdrew. The third aircraft looped into the clouds, came straight down, missed and hit the water twenty feet in front of the bridge. The aircraft exploded as it hit the water, drenching the ship with gas. The fourth Japanese aircraft dove straight for the flight deck, its tail and wing were shot off as it fell aft of the fantail.
During the night of 28 October Petrof Bay retired to the fueling area. That night the ship returned to rendezvous with Taffy 2, TG 77.2 and TG 77.3, and, in company with them, proceeded to Manus Island. All VC-76 aircrew were recovered. The squadron logged 15,000 hours of flight time through eight months of combat without a single personnel loss, while pilots were awarded seventeen Navy Crosses. Captain Kane also received a Navy Cross.
Next, Petrof Bay, as a part of Task Unit 77.4.5, departed for the traffic lanes leading to Leyte 19 November arriving in the area 23 November.
In mid-January 1945, the ship was detached from Task Group 77.3 and ordered to report for duty to Task Group 77.4, to prevent runs being made by the enemy from and into Manila. Direct support was furnished 29 January–30 January for the landings in the San Narciso and San Antonio areas.
The fortress island of Iwo Jima stood in the path of the advancing Americans, and was needed as a base for fighter escorts for the B–29 raids on Tokyo and the Japanese Empire. After being in port for only five days, Petrof Bay departed the Ulithi lagoon, underway for Iwo Jima. On 15 February 1945, she arrived at the objective area in company with Task Group 52.19, the Advance Movement Group.
As the battleships, cruisers and destroyers began shelling the island, aircraft from the escort carriers began strafing and bombing attacks. The troop transports arrived 18 February, and the Marines established a beachhead the next day. Aircraft from Petrof Bay supported these landings and furnished the troops with air support during the operation, making 786 air sorties.
By 7 March, the airstrip on Iwo Jima was fully operational and the ship was ordered to retire to Ulithi via Guam. Iwo Jima was the last operation for the ship's original squadron, VC–76, and at Guam they were disembarked and Composite Squadron 93 (VC–93) embarked on 10 March.
As a part of Task Unit 52.1.2 the ship departed 21 March 1945, escorting TG 54.1, Fire Support Group, to furnish air cover and air support in the invasion and capture of Okinawa. As Marines landed on Kerama Retto, Petrof Bay's new squadron first saw combat during strikes supporting the operation. Anti-aircraft fire was exceptionally heavy and accurate. The day before the landings on Okinawa the escort carrier's aircraft supported landings on Kiese Shima. Thereafter, she launched daily strike groups, patrols and special missions.
"L" Day was 1 April, Easter Sunday, and the landings on Okinawa were made at 08:30 with slight opposition. Aircraft from Petrof Bay preceded the troops.
The unit was ordered to attack and neutralize Sakishima Gunto 13 April, and the first strike was launched from 228 miles (367 km). Heavy anti-aircraft fire was encountered and two aircraft were shot down, but the pilots rescued. On 16 April the formation was back southeast of Okinawa.
During the period from 9 May until 26 May, the ship furnished direct air support, on-target air and anti-submarine patrol. During the Okinawa operation Petrof Bay's combat air patrol shot down 17 enemy aircraft.
On 26 May, Petrof Bay departed for Guam, where she arrived and entered Apra Harbor on 30 May. VC-93 was disembarked and Composite Squadron 90 (VC-90) embarked for transportation to Pearl Harbor. On 19 June, Petrof Bay moored at the Naval Operating Base, Terminal Island, San Pedro, California, for a general overhaul. She was undergoing the overhaul August 6, 1945 when the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and remained in overhaul on August 9, 1945 when the second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki.
Petrof Bay sailed for Pearl Harbor on 13 August 1945. Two days later Japan accepted the terms of the Potsdam Declaration. The carrier arrived 20 August, took VC-20 aboard for qualifying exercises in local seas, replaced VC-20 with VC-4, and sailed for Tokyo Bay 29 August by way of Eniwetok and Saipan. Flight operations continued, consisting of scouting and anti-submarine patrols with the last flight, a TBM Avenger, landing at 16:28 on 10 September off Saipan. The ship arrived at Saipan on 11 September, did not continue to Tokyo Bay, and departed for Pearl Harbor on 25 September with 104 members of VC-7 and other military personnel aboard as passengers. All aircraft were unloaded at Pearl Harbor, ending Petrof Bay's career as a warship.
The 123 men of VPB-152 and others were boarded as passengers. She departed 5 October, arrived in San Francisco 11 October, disembarking hundreds of veteran passengers including her operational squadron, VC-4. On 18 October she made a round trip to Pearl Harbor to pick up more veterans, returning 31 October. Alterations were made at Hunters Point to accommodate more passengers and she departed 17 November for Eniwetok where she loaded 1,062 veterans, followed by 153 at Kwajalein. She arrived in San Francisco 6 December, departed for Guam 12 December, embarked 944 veterans, and arrived at San Pedro on 18 January 1946.
Departing San Pedro on 29 January 1946, she touched at San Diego, transited the Panama Canal, and steamed up the eastern seaboard to Norfolk, Virginia, arriving 15 February. From there she headed northward again, and made her final mooring under her own power at Boston, Massachusetts on 23 February.
She was decommissioned and placed in the Boston Group of the Atlantic Reserve Fleet on 31 July 1955, reclassified CVU–80 12 June 1955, struck from the Navy Vessel Register 27 June 1958. The ship was sold to J. Berkurt on 30 July 1959, and subsequently scrapped.
- Associated Press, "Women Launch Kaiser Vessels", The Spokesman-Review, Spokane, Washington, Thursday 6 January 1944, Volume 61, Number 237, page 2.
- Ahlstrom, John D., CAPT USNR "Leyte Gulf Remembered" United States Naval Institute Proceedings August 1984 pp.45-53
- Rick Cline. "Escort Carrier WWII: War in the Pacific on the aircraft carrier USS Petrof Bay". RA Cline Publishing. July 1, 1998.
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